Saturday, July 31, 2010

What is our mission?

Almost all schools, businesses, and organizations have mission statements.  According to Wikipedia a mission statement is "...a formal, short, written statement of the purpose of a company or organization." The purpose of a mission statement is to " the actions of the organization, spell out its overall goal, provide a sense of direction, and guide decision-making."  The degree to which a mission statement carries any real importance or value depends on the organization.  Some organizations align everything they do to their overarching mission.  It is the basis for decisions in all areas.  In others the mission statement hangs on the wall collecting dust but not having any real impact on the organization. 

In preparing for this post I spent some time researching mission statements of various companies and organizations.  Many of them are fairly standard.  They talk of leading the industry in service and sales.  There are however several well known companies and organizations that have more creative mission statements.  A few examples include:

  • Google whose mission is "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful."
  • Nike whose mission is "To Bring Inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world." 
 and of course 
  • Disney whose mission is simply "To Make People Happy"
As you think about these companies you can see the direct connection between the decisions they have made and their mission statements.  The connection between the activities of these organizations and their mission statements is clear and strong.  

Have you ever read the mission statement of the Okoboji School District?  Do you know it by heart?  If you don't have it memorized (which I am sure is most all of you) here it is...

"We will prepare each learner with the knowledge and skills necessary for a productive life in a changing world. "

There are some key phrases in there that should guide our decisions, programming, and where we commit our resources (time, money, and energy.)
  • Prepare Each Learner - we must reach every student...this is an underlying theme of public education
  • Knowledge and Skills - it is not just about what they know, it is about what they can do with it.  Knowledge without action is useless.  We must equip our learners with both knowledge and skills.  
  • In a Changing World - as discussed last week...the world we are equiping our learners with knowledge and skills for is changing....we must change as well to ensure we can accomplish this mission. 
Mission statements are important things.  If we base our daily actions and decisions on them we can end each day knowing we have gotten one step closer to accomplishing the mission.  

One final note on mission statements...the thing that got the ball rolling on on this thought process happened earlier this week when I visited Pizza Ranch in Spencer.  Just inside the door hangs a poster I had never noticed before.  It displays the mission of the entire Pizza Ranch corporation.  Surprisingly it mentions nothing about sales, service, or even pizza.  The mission statement of Pizza Ranch Inc is "To glorify God by positively impacting the world we live in."  An interesting mission statement to say the least...

Have a great week!


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Teaching for what's next...

First of all my apologies for missing my post last week. We moved into our new house last weekend so I was up to my eyes in boxes, paint, etc.  I had a post rolling around in my head but ran out of the time (and energy) needed to write it down.  After a week of hard work our family is feeling much more settled.  We even had the chance to attend the Pioneer Days Parade today.  What a great time and what a great event for our community.  Our kids should be stocked up in the candy department for at least 18 months!

This week I would like to discuss the issue of teaching for what is next.  I feel strongly that one of the most important things a high school does is to prepare young people for their future.  This has long been one of the primary tasks of schools.  For several generations that future was fairly predictable.  It often went something like this....schools were used to sort students into groups.  A small group of students were college bound.  They would become the next generation of doctors, lawyers, architects, and so on.  The larger group were being prepared for jobs at the local factory or the family farm.  These were great jobs.  The proud men and women that worked in these factories or ran family farms built and fed this country.  A high school graduate could comfortably expect to get a job in manufacturing, make a living, raise a family, and enjoy the American Dream. Several generations prospered in this environment. 

This "20th century" model of schooling worked very effectively for the purpose for which it was designed.  Schools did  a great job of preparing students for what was next in their lives.  Now you knew there was a "but" coming, and here it is....

The problem is that the world around us is changing.  It has been changing for some time but the symptoms of this change have only recently become blatantly obvious.  We are no longer preparing students for the same world we once were.  The 20th century models of economy, employment, even national security no longer apply.  We all know that the small town family farm has become more and more rare as farms are forced to grow larger and larger to survive.  Manufacturing jobs have decreased dramatically all over the United States, including here in Milford.  One of the most startling examples of this can be found in a brief video called "Did You Know"  It was produced by a professor at Iowa State University named Dr. Scott Mcleod among others.  The video can be found here  Before you read on, take a couple of minutes to watch the video if you haven't already.

This video is full of verified statistics that demonstrate the changing nature of the world around us.  Some of the strongest points for me in the video were:
  • The Department of Labor estimates that today's students will have an average of 10-14 jobs by the age of 38.
  • The top 25% of the students in India outnumbers all of the students in the United States.
  • The top 10 in demand jobs in 2010 did not exist in 2004
The glory days of getting a factory job right out of high school and working there 40 years and then retiring are, for the most part, behind us.  Since 2003 only 15% of all jobs in the state of Iowa have been in manufacturing while over 53% of jobs LOST since 2008 have been manufacturing jobs.  The jobs of tomorrow require a new skill set.  Preparing students for these jobs of the future requires us to change much of what and how we teach and learn.  I once heard someone say "if your job can be done cheaper or faster by a computer or someone overseas who is willing to work for less money, it will be.  We are all familiar with outsourcing.  Our challenge is to make our students un-outsource-able. 

Therein lies the problem...our job is to prepare students for their future, but that future is changing so fast we don't know what it will look like.  One thing we do won't look like the past.  The American public education system is great at preparing students for the past.  It has been said that no generation will be more beautifully prepared for the 20th century.  The problem of course, is that the 20th century is over.  It has been for 10 years now.  We need to turn our attention to the future.  That will take a new way of teaching, and a new way of learning.  More on this later...time to step down from my soapbox...I'm sure there are some more boxes to unpack! 

Saturday, July 10, 2010

You can be a resource...

I was re-reading some work by Ruby Payne this week.  Dr. Payne is a nationally recognized expert on children and adults who live in poverty.  She discusses the resources that all children need to be successful.  She defines poverty as the "extent to which an individual does without resources."  According to Dr. Payne those resource areas are:
  1. Financial - having the money to purchase goods and services
  2. Emotional - being able to choose and control emotional responses
  3. Mental - having the mental abilities and skills to deal with daily life
  4. Physical - having physical health and mobility
  5. Support Systems - having friends and family support to access in times of need
  6. Role Models - Having frequent access to appropriate adults who are nurturing and
    who do not engage in self-destructive behavior.
  7. Knowledge of Hidden Rules - knowing the unspoken cues and habits of a group
Dr. Payne's definition of poverty is certainly much different than that used by the U.S. Government.  According to Payne, even those with plenty of financial resources can be poor and those who lack adequate monetary wealth can make up for that with resources in other areas.  The problem becomes that too often certain children lack in many or all of these areas.  This cumulative effect creates true poverty of resources and can have a serious negative impact on that child's chances of success.  If you are reading this, chances are you are a stakeholder in the education of one or more Okoboji School District children.  Whether you are a parent, a teacher, or a student yourself; take a moment to analyze the resource levels of the children in your life.  Are there areas of surplus?  Are their areas of poverty?  Then ask yourself an even more important question - "What can I do about it?"  Maybe you cannot purchase the new laptop the student needs to complete their coursework (although with Okoboji's commitment to our 1:1 program universal computer access will be assured to all middle and high school students soon), but maybe you can supply resources in one of the other areas.  Much of the resources a student needs in terms of support systems and role models don't cost anything but time. 

We all must do our part to ensure that all students, regardless of financial status, have all of the resources they need for success. 

By the way, if you are interested in learning more about the work of Dr. Ruby Payne, you can get an overview of her poverty framework here and a link to her book "A Framework for Understanding Poverty" here.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

First Impressions

Well I am officially an employee of the Okoboji Community School District.  I picked up my keys on July 1st and today I finally had an opportunity to get into the school and my office for the first time since we got here this week.  Exploring this new environment has me filled with excitement and enthusiasm for what is to come.  I was given a tour of the school when I interviewed but this was my first opportunity to go on a self-guided tour.  It got me thinking about first impressions.  As we all know, first impressions are critical in any relationship.  As I explored my office and other parts of the building it seemed that I was getting a brand new first impression of the school I have been entrusted to lead.  I have been in my share of schools across this state and I can say this - our school makes quite a first impression.  Coming in the front door the first thing I noticed was how clean and well maintained the building is.  Even though things are always disheveled in a school in the summer it was amazing how the floors sparkled and the smell of clean filled the air.  Even though the lights were off natural light fills the entry and hallways around the gym and commons.  The new gymnasium is simply marvelous.  I know I am partial but the "O" and the Pioneer logo are two of the best examples of a school branding itself that I have ever seen.  As I continued through the school and office I was impressed that even in its empty summer state, this feels like a place full of learning. I can't wait to see it full of students!

To make a long story short, the school once again made quite a first impression on me.  I am sure that it does the same to new students and families as well as visitors that come in throughout the year.  It reminded me of the importance of my first impressions.  We can learn a lot from a situation or a new acquaintance in the first few times we meet them.  I look forward to the many first impressions to come.  I am eager to get the many important relationships that my family and I will develop here off on the right foot.